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On March 30th, Governor Ricketts approved the Legislature’s 2016 budget, which includes a one-time $250,000 investment in the newly developed grant program for Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) programs. This grant program, administered by the Nebraska Department of Education, was established last session with 1% of lottery fund proceeds. This year’s investment will help grow ELO programs around the state so that more youth have out of school time learning opportunities that provide essential learning and youth development opportunities. With this one-time investment, the Legislature is allowing the Department to support catalyst-type projects illustrating the importance of ELOs powered by school-community partnerships and which explore the potential of these programs to support student growth and development across the state.

The 2016 Nebraska Robotics Expo was held at the Strategic Air & Space Museum on Saturday, February 20, 2016. The Expo represents a collaborative effort between the SPIRIT Project and the Nebraska 4-H Youth Development project, and FIRST® LEGO® League to create an outstanding robotics competition for about 1,000 Nebraska youth from across the state. The Expo included the CEENBoTTM Showcase, FIRST LEGO League events, sponsor booths, and museum exhibits. Visit to find out more about these robotics competitions and events.

On February 9th, Beyond School Bells joined several ELO stakeholders in providing testimony at a hearing of the Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in support of LB 1074, Senator Rick Kolowski’s bill to provide $1 million for the newly developed state grant program for ELO programs. This grant program was established by the Legislature last session, and will be launched later this year. Currently this program will be funded with Lottery proceeds. This bill aims to grow this investment so that more youth have the opportunity to participate in these important programs. This hearing provided the first opportunity for us to make the case for the need to invest in ELO programs with this important committee of our Unicameral. We will keep you posted as this bill moves through the Legislative process.

ESEA (Elementary and Seconday Education Act) was unveiled on November 30th. The Senate and House conferees adopted an education bill that preserves the integrity of funding for before-school, afterschool and summer learning 21st CCLC programs. This was a major victory for the afterschool field! Read more about the current legislation and it's present status.

On October 20th, leaders from across Nebraska gathered on UNL’s City Campus for an all-day policy summit focused on building broader support for Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) in our state. The summit provided an opportunity for a group of invited policymakers and key stakeholders to come together to learn about recent developments highlighting the important role ELOs powered by school-community partnerships have on Nebraska youth.

NU Regent Bob Whitehouse facilitated two morning panel discussions. The first panel discussion focused on “The University’s Role in supporting ELOs” and included Dr. Christine Cutucache – UNO, Dean Chuck Hibbard – UNL Extension, Dr. Lisa St. Clair – Monroe Meyer Institute, UNMC. The second panel discussion was regarding “ELOs: Emerging Opportunities for Nebraska’s Policy makers” and included LPS Superintendent Steve Joel, State Senator Adam Morefeld and Department of Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt.

Dr. Cory Epler, NDE Senior Administrator Curriculum & Instruction provided an overview of NDE’s new accountability framework for Nebraska schools, A QuESTT. The afternoon session, facilitated by NDE Commissioner Emeritas Doug Christensen, featured world café sessions around how to integrate ELO programs in the evolving A QuESTT framework and continuing discussion around Colleges and Universities and ELO Policy. The Summit included a significant amount of structured working group time to provide stakeholders with the opportunity to help identify potential policy action that can support the spread of high-quality, sustainable ELO programs in Nebraska.

We will be using the insights gained through this policy forum and through conversations with other interested stakeholders from across the state to develop policy priorities to drive our work in the upcoming months. Keep reading newsletters for updates and calls to action.

This past month, Afterschool programs in Nebraska and across the nation celebrated Lights on Afterschool (LOA)—the only nationwide event celebrating afterschool programs and their important role in the lives of children, families and communities. Lights On activities send a powerful message to communities—including businesses, schools and policy makers—that millions more kids need quality afterschool programs.

Here in Nebraska, Governor Ricketts signed a proclamation declaring the week of October 19 as Lights on Afterschool Week. Additionally, a number of mayors made similar proclamations for their communities. Throughout the month, numerous LOA events were held in programs across the state, with various local media outlets reporting on local LOA events. These celebrations, which included thousands of participants across Nebraska, provided wonderful opportunities for communities across our state to learn about the importance of ELO programs.

Read more about these LOA events in Nebraska communities and view event pictures on our website

The “Maker Movement” is sweeping across America’s educational landscape. Based on the realization that some of the most important, creative STEM + A (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math + Arts) learning takes place outside of traditional classrooms, maker spaces are popping up in science and children’s museums, libraries, business incubators (most recently at UNL’s Innovation Campus), community centers – anywhere creative people like to get together, share perspectives, passions and expertise, tinker and make things.

In October, Beyond School Bells jumped into this space and launched a pilot mobile maker space in partnership with the Kearney CLC program, the Think. Make. Create. Lab – TMC Lab. The 6 foot by 12 foot enclosed trailer full of maker supplies was designed to both support STEM learning and create a new tool for ELO systems to engage community partners. We plan to evaluate its effectiveness in Kearney during the upcoming year and, if successful will seek funding to expand this program targeted Nebraska communities in 2016.

Afterschool Alliance recently released their first ever special report on afterschool science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning based on the 2014 America After 3PM survey data. Full STEM Ahead: Afterschool Programs Step Up as Key Partners in STEM Education is the first comprehensive look at parental perceptions of STEM programming offered by afterschool providers and examines demand, access and satisfaction both nationally and by state. For more details, please read the full report. You can also download the Executive Summary for a shorter read that gives you just the key findings. Additionally, you can view their interactive dashboard to see national and Nebraska-level data and download state fact sheets.